About Mr. Joe

I am Joe Van Deuren, 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and have trained in a number of other arts also. My story is not your typical one, but I would like to share it with you as I start this new journey.

I grew up in Odenton, MD with my mom, dad and sister. Mom was 21 when I was born and dad, well he was 54. Big difference in those days and a large part of my story. My father almost died in 1956 with bleeding ulcers and his health went down hill from there. In fact he finally succumb to heart disease in November 11, 1968. My family was very poor, though I did not know it till later in life. Dad hardly ever worked due to health and my mother who grew up on a farm and not very well educated took very simple jobs.

At the age of 11 I was already trying to figure out how to make some money and did so by running errands for neighbors. Having been seen as industrious by a local market they asked me if I would come in and sweep and other odd jobs. Pay was $.75 per hour. I was elated and soon was doing more and more at the store till finally at the age of 16 I was ordering stock for the store and all sorts of things for $1.25 per hour.

College never crossed my mind. I was not a good student, by school standards but I had learned about work ethic. After leaving school I got a job with a department store and that led to a job with a carpet company in DC. Pay was $250 per week. This job taught me a lot but this is not where I wanted to spend my life. Oh I had one other problem too. I had a real anger issue. I did not know at that time what I was angry about, but believe me I was angry. So much so that I did some destructive things and was released from this job.

Soon I hooked on to a company that had a brand new from Germany product that really intrigued me and I was accepted to be a sales person for this product. I soon realized that sales were not my thing but there was a real need for someone to install this product and so after 2 years of introducing this to the Baltimore / Washington area I started a company doing the installation of this product. I was the first in the area to do this exclusively and soon was flying around the nation teaching others the ins and outs of this business. And I started to make decent money.

My first child came along and this was a big change in my life. I was providing for her in ways that I had never had been provided for and I realized there were still many kids out there, in all ranges of economic conditions that still needed someone to give them encouragement to do the right thing and teach them how. I wanted to have an impact on kids lives and had no idea how I could do that.

Then along came martial arts. After the first 3 classes I knew this was it, this was the way to get the kids attention and use it to teach them all the things mom and dad tried hard to teach, but need that ‘village’ to help support them to do. After training for a number of years I started teaching , and the approach I took was always about respect and discipline first and then technique was next. The parents loved it and I wanted to do this so bad.

It was not to be with the instructor I was with, in what I saw as fair and equitible, and so I started my school November 2003. I would call it Balanced Life Skills. I would teach martial arts but with character development and community service as the backbone of the program.

I met Tom Callos in 2004 and was invited to take part in the first Ultimate Black Belt Test that fall and into the spring of 2005. It was different and Tom was different. He talked about the same things I talked about – but bigger. I had always been afraid to go that far out on a limb, and yet there he was way out there. I knew I had to hang around him. Soon I felt the permission to teach martial arts the way I wanted to and not the way the commercialized schools did in factory style, milling out students with black belts. And soon I accepted him as a mentor. What a teacher he is. As you get to know him you will know what I mean.

I don’t agree with everything he says or does, but he is headed on the right road and I am happy to be on this road too. Many times when I look up he is off exploring a different path or idea, and soon I have to decide is this for me or do I keep going down this path. Somehow it all works out and so I have decided to go through the UBBT once again. Will I earn my next rank? I am not sure. I am going to try and keep trying till Tom says “Joe you have earned it.”

It does not matter the time, what matters is the journey and what I learn that I can bring back to our students. What matters is can I give Tom and the rest of the team something back that they will value as much as I value what they have provided for me. What matters is will I set the example of what it means to be a good student to all of my students so they can grow too? This is my story on this blog. Some will be good and some you may wonder about me? When you see me slipping please do not stand back and question my integrity or intent. Instead stand up and pull me along if I need it, encourage me when needed and give me complement if I have earned it. I will not quit, I will persevere till the job is done.


2 responses to “About Mr. Joe

  1. Joe, good luck with your journey in the UBBT. Since you are A Taekwondo instructor, I have a question for you, the martila arts school I was attendind in Wing Chun recently closed, there are no other Wing Chun schools in my area and someone suggestred I try Taekwondo. However, I am 61 years old and since I have always thought that this art requires a lot of high kicks as opposed to Wing Chun, Taekwondo might be over my head(pardon the pun). What has been your experience with older Martial Artists in your school?

    Thank you,


  2. During my training in the Martial Arts, I had learned that respect and discipline is a major part of training. I also learned that the life skills that are imparted through Martial Arts is very important for one’s life. I have trained in many schools and have traveled all over the world. I have been in Martial Arts for over 35 years and have produced many Black Belts. Character Traits, Life Skills and all those things taught are so important in life…. but self defense techniques and martial art skills are also important. Schools that graduate black belts with the false sense of security of protection and limited technique are very dangerous. I hope you are a school that not only teaches life skills, but also imparts the quality that the Black Belt Upholds as well. Although I think that what you are doing is great, I know of schools in the U.S. that teach life skills first and have little regard to technique and strong teaching. These schools are dangerous because they lessen the meaning of a Black Belt and will send the wrong message to people on their ability to defend themselves. Schools that put character skills before the technique should be a Life Skills School, not a Martial Arts School. I am not sure who your instructor is, but I honor my instructor, and although I enjoyed reading your biography, since I have trained, I wanted to point out that you wouldn’t have stayed and became a Black Belt in the other school if you didn’t believe in what they taught. I wish you the best of luck in your training, but don’t forget where you come from. Hopefully the skills that your instructor taught you and all the experiences he or she directed you too have helped inspire you so that now you can help others. Teach your students what you hopefully were taught and honor and respect those before you and don’t discount your previous training. Good Luck on your next journey.